How a Cambridge social entrepreneur helped break the isolation and anxiety of parenthood for families in Kings Hedges

How can we help new parents to tackle feelings of of isolation and anxiety?  

This was the central goal of the Kings Hedges Family Support Project set up by local social entrepreneur Pat Mackenzie 23 years ago.

Speaking at the latest instalment of the ‘Our Cambridge’ cafe-style discussion series, Pat Mackenzie inspired us with her story. How did she build and sustain a 23-year project to help  parents in deprived wards of the city? What lessons did she learn? And what impact has the project had for local parents and their children?

Tackling Isolation and Anxiety

In 1994 when funding became available for innovative projects in deprived areas of Cambridge, Pat, working at Cambridgeshire Social Services, was able to gain support for her plans to support families with babies and young children. From her own experience as a mother and working as a childminder she recognised how parenthood could cause isolation and anxiety, particularly for those struggling to make ends meet.

Continually emphasising that the project, with bases in Kings Hedges, Barnwell and Chesterton, works with ‘ordinary families,’ usually with one or both parents in part time work, she spoke about the difference that sharing problems with other parents could make.

Paid staff, including play workers, provide a welcoming and supportive environment and a meal is also provided. The project works in partnership with other agencies, and is able to signpost and give information about problems such as debt and domestic violence. The centres are open 50 weeks a year and a helpline is available during the 2 week Christmas break.

Sure Start

When Sure Start centres*, with similar aims and philosophies to the Kings Hedges project were initiated in Cambridge the project became a part of the Sure Start network.

Pat expressed her disappointment that policies eventually changed and children’s centres have been encouraged to provide day care for working parents who often come from outside Cambridge, and pay fees which users of the project cannot afford.

Parents who come to the 3 centres live locally and are likely to meet each other in local shops etc. Small pieces of research have shown how children attending the Centres are able to settle quickly and happily in the transition to school.

During the discussion people raised difficulties such as identifying autism and how ‘troubled’ families with more serious problems were referred for help. People attending the meeting, clearly impressed by the work of the project, were concerned that there should be more public awareness of the good work being done.

Family support services. Positive parenting through play, plus parental support and advice.
Mondays 10.00am-12.30pm (0 up to 3 years); 1-3pm (babies) at The Fields Children’s Centre, Galfrid Road.
Wednesdays 10.00am-12.30 (0 up to 3yrs); 1-3pm (babies) at the North Cambridge Children’s Centre, Campkin Road.
Thursdays 10.00am-2.00pm (0 up to 4yrs) at Brown’s Field Youth and Community Centre, 31A Green End Road, Chesterton, Cambridge.

Telephone: 01223 508144 Registered charity no.1107581 Funded by the National Lottery through The Big Lottery Fund

*The evidence supporting the Sure Start programme was based on American research projects involving a variety of early interventions and support for parents living in areas of deprivation. Some research followed cohorts into adulthood making comparisons with cohorts who had not had early intervention/support.


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Neuroscientific evidence regarding crucial ‘wiring’ of the brain in the first 3 years of life has also influenced attitudes to early years’ provision.

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